Club swims into troubled waters over future at MEA leisure centre
A long-established swimming club fears it will be left “out in the cold” over its future at Larne Leisure Centre.
Larne Swimming Club believes it could be “out of business” after Mid and East Antrim Borough Council decided to extend its own swimming lessons programme at its three leisure centres.
The decision was taken at a meeting behind closed doors last July when councillors agreed to the expansion of the ‘MeAqua Academy’ at Larne Leisure Centre, Seven Towers Leisure Centre, Ballymena and Amphitheatre, Carrickfergus to provide swimming lessons mainly for schoolchildren.
From April, the club’s Saturday morning swimming lessons will cease with the remainder continuing until September leaving organisers fearing loss of revenue will bring an end to the 52-year-old club.
Larne Swimming Club has 162 “learners” and 50 children on the waiting list. It has a 120-strong membership and 12 coaches including one Olympian and currently holds 19 Ulster and 14 Irish records.
Chairperson Laura O’Mahony said that revenue from the club’s swimming lessons makes the £32,000 rent “affordable” at Larne Leisure Centre and to lose it will “put us out of business”.
“We have been told there are other ways for swimming clubs to survive,” she commented.
“Our swimmers will probably disperse to different clubs, possibly Ards, Bangor and Belfast.
“We are a very high achieving club. We have an Olympic swimmer who takes eight hours a week of her training schedule to coach poolside but none of it seems to matter.
“The council does not see the benefit in the club being there. It is about making a poor financial decision with regard to their leisure centre.”
Larne Lough Alliance Councillor Danny Donnelly commented:
“The club have told me there was no consultation with them prior to the commencement of this plan by council.
“The club is long-established and very much respected in the town. It has produced elite swimmers that have competed at national and international level.
“I believe we can find a balance whereby the swimming club can run swimming lessons to continue to generate income to sustain itself and council can also run its own swimming lessons without having a negative impact on the club. I had been told there would be Direct Services Committee report in April although it may be at full council in May now.”
A spokesperson for Mid and East Antrim Borough Council said:
“In July 2021, Council gave approval for the expansion of MEAqua Academy across Seven Towers Leisure Centre, Amphitheatre and Larne Leisure Centre.
“Over the last number of months, Council officers have engaged with Larne Swimming Club in terms of phasing in the increase in Council swimming lessons and will continue to engage with the club going forward.”
Mid and East Antrim Borough Council was strongly criticised by Larne and Ballymena swimming clubs for remaining shut for an extended period at the end of the first lockdown in 2020 despite being allowed to reopen by the Northern Ireland Executive.